Putting an end to its traditional demand for “free and subsidised education at all levels”, the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) — students’ wing of the CPM — has decided to support the ruling Communist government in reserving seats in medical and engineering institutions, against the payment of a capitation fee.
The SFI controls unions in 310 educational institutions in the state, including Presidency College, by dint of its ‘no fee hike and no capitation fee’ mantra. Students’ bodies affiliated with the Congress, Trinamul Congress and other parties hold sway in a 100-odd institutions.
But now, the SFI says it has no objection if the state government is required to hike fees in medical, engineering and other institutions. The decision follows the recent state government announcement of reserving 15 per cent seats in medical colleges for students who can pay a capitation fee. The announcement is in accordance with a recent Supreme Court ruling.
The SFI, however, points to the Centre’s recent moves to cut funds to the state government for development of higher education to justify the shift in stand.
“The financial burden of the state government will increase considerably after the Centre cuts funds for higher education. In such a situation, we need to soften our stand. Education in engineering, medical and even the general streams cannot progress if students do not carry forward the government’s policies on a fee hike and capitation fees,” said Apurba Chatterjee, state SFI committee general secretary.
Chatterjee pointed out that the SFI has categorically told the government it will extend support on the condition that the institutions admit students on merit and not just on their ability to pay high capitation fees.
The SFI will also oppose institutions levying “abnormally high fees” on students at any stage. Chatterjee said his organisation sought a “rational fee structure” to be maintained at all levels.
Health department officials, however, said the plans for reserving seats against capitation fees have been accepted in principle, but a final decision is still pending with the government. “We will meet representatives of the SFI and other student bodies to discuss the issue before the decision is implemented,” they said.